We Want Bread and Roses

Revisiting the 2018 East Bay DSA Bread and Roses Platform.



At the 2018 annual convention of the East Bay, California chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, over 300 members of the then 800-person chapter voted on new chapter leadership as well as a priorities resolution deciding major strands of work the chapter would undertake for the next year. On that day, it was thrilling to be part of a socialist tradition that had nearly died out before the rise of DSA — it was a genuine democratic convention hotly debating politics.

I was honored to be part of this process as one of the 13 candidates who ran as the Bread & Roses slate in the chapter’s election. Together we put forward a priorities resolution adapted from the longer platform document shared here. Another slate of candidates ran on a competing resolution. After debate on the political and organizational merits of the two resolutions, the chapter voted in favor of the Bread & Roses document by a wide margin, with some amendments made from the floor. Bread & Roses candidates also won a majority on the chapter’s thirteen person Steering Committee.

In DSA’s big tent, there are many political tendencies, but vibrant debates about the most strategic paths forward for socialists in the 21st century remain limited by our lack of experience.

Up until our convention, many debates within East Bay DSA, like DSA as a whole, tended to be conducted on procedural and personal, rather than strategic or political grounds. In other words, most arguments boiled down to something like “this project is bad because the committee proposing it is structured the wrong way or composed of the wrong people” as opposed to “this project is bad because its assumptions about the political conditions in our society are incorrect.”

The Bread & Roses platform attempted to move debate within the chapter towards politics, offering a mass-oriented, materialist approach that our resurgent socialist movement should take up. The document begins with with a critical analysis of the state of the left in 2018. In East Bay left politics in particular, “activistism,” horizontalism, and anarcho-liberalism have long been among the dominant modes of organizing, and it was this ineffective and inward-gazing mode that we hoped to break out of with the four areas of work we proposed the chapter undertake.

  1. Fighting for universal social programs, including structural reforms like Medicare for All.
  2. Rebuilding the power and militancy of organized labor through the rank-and-file strategy.
  3. Contesting elections to build working class power while strategically using the Democratic ballot line.
  4. Creating a vibrant democratic socialist movement by building a diverse cadre, strengthening internal organizational democracy, and expanding our chapter’s political education programs.

The success of our platform at the convention confirmed that while the majority of DSA members likely came to the left because they support social democratic policies like those advocated by Bernie Sanders, many of them are open to organizing around a Marxist strategy to build socialism — not just social democracy — provided it is grounded in an accurate, compelling analysis of the world as it is now.

We hope that our platform can serve as an example for other chapters looking to put together their own priorities resolutions to engage concretely with the political situation in their area and to help move the Left and DSA forward. And it is our hope as a slate that The Call will have the same success that we had in popularizing this analysis and politics to a much wider audience in DSA.

— Frances Reade

The Bread and Roses Platform (2018)

The Political Terrain

The US working class made impressive political and material gains in the twentieth century, but in recent decades many of them have been reversed. Ordinary people’s cost of living is skyrocketing while our wages stagnate and our quality of life decreases. Governments continue to privatize essential services, dismantle social programs, erode labor protections and collective bargaining rights, and pass austerity budgets while giving massive tax breaks to corporations. An aggressive assault on organized labor since the 1970s has eroded the power of working people to fight back, and corporate deregulation has led to unprecedented wealth inequality and environmental catastrophe.

In the Bay Area, we are surrounded by opulent wealth and crushing poverty. While tech companies build sprawling “campuses” and pay high wages to their engineers and exorbitant salaries to their CEOs, the cost of living becomes untenable for a growing number of working people. Thousands of families have been forced to move into sprawling and underserved “exurbs” or into expanding tent encampments in the streets. These displaced Bay Area residents — predominantly people of color and immigrants — are then increasingly subjected to violent, militarized policing and immigration raids.

As far back as Ronald Reagan in the 1960s, California politicians have rigged state politics to weaken the working class, using constitutional amendments and a series of business-funded legislative and ballot drives. The end result is lavish tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations, and dramatically reduced budgets for social programs. Two state laws perfectly illustrate this trend. In 1978, Proposition 13 requires all state tax increases to pass with a two-thirds majority and slashes property taxes for businesses and affluent homeowners — with diminishing returns for lower income and newer homeowners. The law has since drained hundreds of billions from schools and other services. In 1995, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act blocked any California city from passing strong, comprehensive rent control. The combined effect of the two laws has been fixed, low property taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, and skyrocketing housing costs for everyone else.

While federal and state social programs are dismantled, the repressive state continues to strengthen itself. Growing police forces are now routinely equipped with military-grade weaponry while insulated from democratic control. In the last twenty years California public schools have dropped from top in the nation to near the bottom, real-dollar tuition in the University of California system has tripled, all while the state has built twenty-three new prisons at a cost of $280 million to $350 million apiece. Oakland spends a majority of its annual budget on a police force that has shot and killed ninety people in the last eighteen years.

But since the financial crash of 2008, we have witnessed a series of political rebellions against the established order across much of the globe. Here in the United States we’ve seen huge public-sector strikes in Wisconsin and Chicago, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and most recently the historic wildcat teachers’ strike in West Virginia and massive rallies demanding systemic reforms to end the gun violence epidemic. Bernie Sanders’s surprisingly popular 2016 primary run revealed a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo — and a wide opening for left and socialist politics in the US and California.

The Left’s Five Dead Ends

However, organized socialists have so far been unable to take full advantage of this historic opening. After decades of separation from a militant labor movement, five dead-end modes of politics are dominant on the left: business unionism, NGO-ism, electoralism, sectarianism, and horizontalism. Despite their best intentions, activists organizing within these frameworks will not be able to deliver the fundamental social changes we need. Our slate rejects these approaches and strives instead to forge a path of class struggle and mass action.

1. Business unionism

Labor union membership is at an all-time low after decades of attacks by employers and business-friendly politicians. As a result, many unions have taken the self-defeating approach of “business unionism.” Risk-averse unions often try to work with employers to keep union jobs and minimize losses to wages and benefits. In return, union leadership focuses their bargaining on narrow workplace issues in an effort to assure employers that workers won’t strike, while presenting the union as a fee-for-service organization to a demobilized membership (i.e. the “service model”). But without democratic and high-participation unions carrying out militant class struggle, the labor movement can only watch helplessly as the gains of twentieth-century labor militancy deteriorate. The recent wildcat teachers’ strike in West Virginia is a timely reminder of the power workers have when they take bold strike action grounded in class struggle and solidarity.

2. NGO-ism

Issue-based and service-oriented nonprofits (often called NGOs) rely on grants from capitalists and their foundations. They tend to engage in staff-driven, media-friendly campaigns to win the attention of donors and create the illusion of taking meaningful action on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. This often involves well-meaning political advocacy and education work, or the provision of essential services that should be the purview of a well-resourced welfare state. The NGO mode of organizing is defined by practices we should strive to avoid: an over-reliance on professional staff at the expense of member-driven democracy, an emphasis on superficial and abstract trainings over political education and practical development, the elevation of process over politics, and a buzzword-heavy insider culture. These practices all tend to divert the energies of activists into narrow projects that fall far short of making the radical changes needed to confront capitalist power.

3. Electoralism

Many activists engage in nominally progressive yet shallow electoral efforts. While campaigns may be successful in getting progressives into office, these officials rarely become tribunes for building mass working-class movements. Unless candidates are rooted in and accountable to a strong working-class base, they will not be able to remain materially and politically independent of corporations and Democratic Party insiders. Promises to serve working-class constituents can easily fade into the background as the funding and prominent endorsements which flow from political and economic elites become increasingly important to election campaigns and policy-making. This explains why even once-genuine progressive politicians tend to deemphasize their previously held principles as their careers advance. By neglecting to simultaneously organize a working-class base, progressives often squander precious resources on politicians who don’t stay true to their word.

This is not to say, of course, that we should neglect or abandon the electoral arena. Democratic socialists agree that participation in electoral politics is essential to our project — the question is how we go about it (we propose a strategy below).

4. Sectarianism

There are many fringe groups on the left that will never be anything more than tiny sects. They are “sectarian” because they counterpose their pre-packaged program against the real movement of people engaged in class struggle. These groups espouse revolutionary rhetoric but have little or no connection to the working class or any other meaningful social base. A rigid adherence to programmatic points prevents them from adapting to changing conditions in society. They forget Marx’s key insight that it is essential to “educate the educator” — to learn and to test our ideas through practical political activity in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. These sects therefore have little or no impact on working-class movements and the US political scene broadly. We must do everything in our power to avoid their mistakes.

5. Horizontalism

Finally, many activists are committed to a “horizontalist” approach to organizational practices and structures. Occupy was the best example of this, but it is a very common orientation on today’s left worldwide. This approach advocates “networked” or “autonomous” activity that too often ends up fragmenting the movement in many different directions. Horizontalism offers a valuable critique of top-down bureaucratic structures, and it’s an understandable reaction to twentieth-century authoritarianism. However, by rejecting all forms of centralization and representation — as well as the need to contend with the authoritarian power of capital and the state — movements organized along these lines will not even be able to define, let alone achieve, their goals. Therefore, horizontalists content themselves with making the movement itself a “prefiguration” of a different society, one that they cannot actually bring into being. Our organization should not just be a refuge from the world, but a weapon with which to change it.

Paradoxically, this “horizontal” model lends itself in practice both to increased bureaucracy and a reduction in the substance of democracy. The end result is an excessive preoccupation with internal administrative details — meetings about meetings, debates about rules of debate — at the expense of strategic and outward-looking political action.

Our Tasks

The road to democratic socialism will ultimately require, at some point, a decisive break with capitalism and a confrontation with the capitalist state. But the capitalist class currently has an unprecedented amount of power over our society and over the state. Today’s divided and disempowered working class is in no position to topple capitalism in the near term, even in the event of a systemic crisis. In the face of these obstacles, we are committed to replacing capitalism with democratic socialism. Therefore, we believe our current agenda must focus on rebuilding the power and the organizational capacities of the working class.

In our capitalist society a tiny minority of the population controls the vast majority of wealth and power. Capitalists accrue vast fortunes by exploiting workers’ labor, and use this wealth to rig the political system and the economy in their favor. That’s why the working class is central to socialist politics: not only are working people the vast majority of society, their exploitation keeps the capitalists’ profits flowing and society running. Workers are therefore the only group that has the interest, the social power, and the numbers to transform society. Once workers are conscious of this vast potential power, they can use strikes, boycotts, and other mass tactics to shut down business as usual, extract concessions, and enact real change. They can also form mass political parties and other working class organizations to challenge the authority of the current political regime, and ultimately replace it.

To build working-class solidarity in action, socialists have a special responsibility to struggle against oppression and discrimination. This is why socialists have been on the front lines of the fight for civil rights and liberties, against attacks on immigrants and racial minorities, and for the full equality of women, disabled, queer, and trans people in our society. But these indispensable fights cannot ultimately succeed without attacking the underlying economic roots of social oppression: the competition for jobs and resources that pits working-class people against each other while the rich get richer. Truly effective anti-oppression politics is not possible in the absence of a compelling program of economic justice for all — one that cuts across lines of race, gender, and national origin, and unites the diverse working-class majority in a shared struggle to advance our common interests.

Build Working-Class Power Through Mass Action

To build the power of the working class today, East Bay DSA should pursue mass action as our strategic orientation. This means gearing our activities toward the diverse working-class majority not yet in DSA — through canvassing, demonstrations, town halls, rank-and-file unionism, independent media, and more — and bringing them into open conflict with landlords, bosses, and their political functionaries.

Democratic socialists should be central to a revitalized labor movement, tenant organizing, oppositional election campaigns, and mass demonstrations against deportations, police violence, and austerity. We should be fighting alongside working people around grievances they already have, while helping them understand how each specific issue connects to the underlying problem of capitalism and the need to replace it with socialism. This is how we can build a powerful socialist movement rooted in a diverse, mass working-class base, while inspiring millions to wage class struggle from below.

Through mass action, democratic socialists can build working-class power in three key ways. First, our activities should raise class consciousness on a large scale, growing the capacity of ordinary people to identify as working class and express solidarity with their fellow workers in the fight against capitalists. Second, we must help build organizations for working class struggle, including trade unions, tenants’ organizations, and ultimately a mass independent working-class political party. Finally, DSA should continue to develop thousands of skilled and committed democratic socialist organizers who will play key roles in social movements while building an independent socialist movement.

Our Strategy

In our platform, we lay out what we think are the best ways for East Bay DSA to build working-class power over the next year and beyond. What follows is our reasoning for focusing on four key areas of work: universal social programs, organized labor, electoral organizing, and building a vibrant democratic socialist movement.

1. Fight for Universal Social Programs

We believe that the three most important areas of reform for democratic socialists to fight for today are healthcare, housing, and education. Each of these issues points to a severe crisis draining the resources, autonomy, and life out of millions of working-class people here and across the country.

For California’s working people, the essential needs of life are under attack as never before. With rent skyrocketing and luxury developments proliferating, homelessness in Alameda County rose 39% between 2015 and 2017. Meanwhile, the Bay Area has more residential units sitting vacant than there are homeless people in the streets. Medical debt is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in the US, and thousands across the country die each year due to lack of adequate coverage while the average health insurance executive’s annual salary is $30 million. Teacher pay is so low in Oakland that the city has constant trouble finding skilled educators who can afford to live in the communities where they teach, while class sizes explode and school buildings crumble. The total student-debt load for college graduates has reached $1.4 trillion nationally, with millions of former students saddled with a lifetime of crushing debt. Two in five borrowers are likely to default on their student loans while millions of poor people are locked out of higher education altogether.

The crises in healthcare, education, and housing all stem from the same root cause: a society where essential goods and services are treated as profit engines.

Fighting for and winning universal reforms like Medicare for All, free and high-quality public education from pre-K through college, universal rent control, and good public housing allow us to build a mass base for democratic socialist politics. Three core principles of class-struggle politics can be popularized by advancing these demands:

  • First, capitalist markets cannot justly distribute public goods like healthcare, education, and housing. These should be taken out of the market and put under public, democratic control. In other words, these basic things should be decommodified.
  • Second, public programs should be universal and inspire solidarity among the whole working class. That means no eligibility requirements or means testing, and everyone is included — including undocumented immigrants. In the words of Quentin Young, founder of Physicians for a National Health Program,“Everybody in, nobody out.”
  • Finally, universal, public, and democratically-controlled social programs should achieve massive redistributions of wealth and power. Free and high-quality healthcare, housing, and education should be paid for by taxing the rich and their corporations. This way we can usher in the end of austerity politics, which has always meant lavish tax cuts for the rich and corporations and shrinking budgets for social programs for everyone else.

By advancing these principles, campaigns for universal reforms can unite working people — tenants and patients, caregivers and students, disabled and able-bodied, students and the unemployed, educators and healthcare workers — against the developers, landlords, health insurance companies, and banks who profit off of their exploitation and immiseration.

Free public healthcare, housing, and education would dramatically improve the daily lives of the majority of people while building working-class power. How many workers would leave a lousy job or organize a new union if we untethered healthcare and housing from employment? What radical demands could unions make if they weren’t compelled to fight for benefits that could simply be socially guaranteed? How many workers would pursue a more meaningful career or take time to raise a family if they weren’t saddled with enormous student or medical debt? How many women could walk out on a sexually harassing boss if housing and healthcare were free?

Just as unions are bulwarks of working-class power to fight against discrimination and bigotry, universal social programs also help to undermine the material bases of social oppressions and the economic subjugation of women, immigrants, and people of color. Universal and socialized healthcare, education, housing, transportation and more, would have a dramatic impact on the lives of poor people of color, working women, LGBTQ people, and the disabled. These programs could help liberate oppressed people from financial debt and abusive employers or partners, while putting an end to homelessness. What’s more, working-class women are often burdened with uncompensated care work like caring for young children and elderly, sick, or disabled family members. We should demand that all of this work be socialized and paid for by taxes on capitalist profits.

Winning these reforms would begin to break the domination capitalists have over the lives of workers. A working class that is terrified of unemployment is a working class that cannot effectively fight the bosses. Universal social programs can support workers’ economic independence, unite them in struggle against the capitalist class, and raise workers’ capacity to fight for even more — especially if socialists play a leading role in these movements.

2. Rebuild the Power and Militancy of Organized Labor

At the root of deepening inequality — vast riches for an elite few and poverty and insecurity for everyone else — is the decades-long decline of the labor movement. With the coming of the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, which will extend “right-to-work” to all public sector workplaces, labor needs to go on the offensive. Because workplace organizing is a fundamental arena of class struggle, socialists must resist all efforts to diminish the power of unions.

We know, however, that in too many cases the unions we have left are conservative, top-down, and bureaucratic. So we fight not just to defend the existing unions but for the transformation of the labor movement as well. For that reason, we believe that socialists’ primary approach to organized labor must be the rank-and-file strategy.

As the largest socialist organization in generations, DSA has a crucial role to play in this strategy. We must support, recruit, educate, and unite rank-and-file militants in all kinds of workplaces, but especially in strategic fields like healthcare, education, and logistics. This also means supporting and collaborating with rank-and-file union reform caucuses and projects like Labor Notes. In other words, we should do what we can to rebuild a “militant minority” in the labor movement. This would give DSA a valuable organic connection to the working class and its most important organizations.

3. Contest Elections to Build Working-Class Power

For most people “politics” is synonymous with elections, whether we like it or not. Participating in elections is crucial if democratic socialists want to reach a mass audience and demonstrate that we are serious fighters for the working class.

Over the last half century, the Democratic Party’s courtship of the professional-managerial class has come at the expense of the working class majority. Here in California, where Democrats currently control the California governorship and have a supermajority in the state legislature, Democrats are still unwilling to implement comprehensive reforms that would benefit the working class — clearly demonstrated this past year with Democratic legislators’ abandonment of the single-payer healthcare bill. At the same time, the Democrats routinely line the pockets of their true constituencies: healthcare and insurance industry CEOs, real estate speculators, big oil interests, and the Chamber of Commerce.

That is why we propose an oppositional, independent, working-class approach to electoral politics whose main goal is building working-class power. This means strategically endorsing genuine anti-corporate progressives who will fight for working-class interests. While we are open to using the Democratic ballot line when it makes sense, we are not interested in realigning the Democrats or involving ourselves in internal Democratic Party politics. We should always maintain our political independence, and avoid a narrow electoral focus that would reduce our organization into a “get out the vote” operation on behalf of progressive candidates or issues. In the lead-up to the 2020 elections, we should assess our capabilities and consider running our own East Bay DSA activists for elected office.

Our long-term goal is to build an independent, mass working-class party. But in the near future any democratic socialist politician who assumes office will likely be isolated, with limited power to pass radical legislation inside the government and a shallow base on the outside. That is why we think democratic socialist politicians should act as organizers for the socialist movement first and as legislators second.

During their campaigns and once elected, democratic socialist politicians can advance an oppositional, working-class politics by extending class struggle within the state in two ways. First, they must use their office as a “bully pulpit” to advance democratic socialist ideas, agitate for transformative policies, and undermine whatever trust working people still have in business-friendly, establishment politics. Second, they should use their offices as tactical platforms to introduce legislation, build coalitions with progressive politicians and unions, and fight for worker-friendly reforms.

In 2018, East Bay DSA should focus on electing the two Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) candidates we endorsed last fall, Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles. Both are committed to a democratic socialist vision and, rejecting all corporate campaign donations, they are materially and politically beholden to a working-class base. As such they have advanced an ambitious platform of reforms that would dramatically improve the material conditions and collective power of working Californians. More importantly, their campaigns have been oriented towards progressive activists, unions, and socialist organizations — not wealthy donors and Democratic Party insiders.

DSA’s recent growth is due in large part to the phenomenal success of the Bernie Sanders campaign. While the thirteen million votes Sanders received in the primaries is impressive, we argue his lasting contribution is that he put class politics and universal social programs back on the agenda for millions of Americans. Another Sanders presidential run in 2020 could catapult these politics into the mainstream of US politics, as Corbyn’s rise has done in the UK.

By this time next year, tens of millions of previously disengaged working Americans will likely be talking about Bernie Sanders’s program of tuition-free college and university, Medicare for All, higher taxes on capitalist profits, transitioning to an ecologically sustainable economy, and putting an end to wars abroad and mass incarceration and deportations at home. DSA must make the most of this opportunity. We should begin planning for Sanders’s probable campaign announcement this year, so that when the time comes, hundreds of DSA activists in the East Bay and thousands across the US are prepared to start having conversations at neighbors’ doors and in their workplaces about how joining and fighting alongside a nationwide democratic socialist organization is the best way to make Bernie’s call for a political revolution a reality.

4. Build a Vibrant Democratic Socialist Movement

A mass socialist movement is essential if the left wants to unify and revitalize the largely divided and inactive forces of the working class. Now that we’ve described how DSA can play this role, here is how we think we can best build DSA into the leading force of a vibrant twenty-first century socialist movement. We should not only recruit a thousand new members into East Bay DSA over the next year, but we should make sure we are recruiting a diverse membership, engaging them in our political and organizational activities, and educating them as committed democratic socialists.


The working class is the most diverse group in society, but the current demographics of DSA do not reflect this diversity. So far DSA has created a space for tens of thousands of people to develop a working-class consciousness and organize along class lines. This is a tremendous accomplishment after decades of left defeat and demoralization. However, our main source of recruitment continues to be downwardly mobile but predominantly white and well-educated millennials. Our society is deeply segregated, so it’s no surprise that the membership of a voluntary organization like DSA reflects that reality. But if we’re going to be successful, a mass movement for democratic socialism must be rooted in the diverse working-class majority.

This will not be easy, but we can look to some of our forebears for guidance in this struggle. Radical unionists in the Jim Crow South fought to integrate their unions because they knew that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The mostly white Communist Party organizers in the 1920s and 1930s joined black activists to fight against racial terrorism and organized with black sharecroppers in Alabama and black tenants’ unions in Harlem. The Black Panthers’ Fred Hampton organized working people in Chicago across racial divisions on the basis of shared economic grievances and against a shared enemy, the capitalist class.

Following in these radical footsteps, we must stand in solidarity with working people of all races, national origins, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities. In working to save our cities’ public schools, demanding universal rent control, and fighting for Medicare for All, democratic socialists have a unique ability to bring people together around shared interests and build organizing relationships across lines of difference. We must not let this potential go unfulfilled.

We must actively participate in struggles for reproductive justice and against deportations, police violence, and mass incarceration. We must reach beyond pre-existing social networks to recruit new members who want to improve their material conditions, just as we are. We must pay special attention to the accessibility of our organizing — like rotating where our meetings are held, providing childcare at big events, and organizing YDSA chapters with diverse, working-class community college students. Perhaps most importantly, we must show that we’re serious about rebuilding the power of organized labor as well as winning major redistributive reforms that will positively impact people’s daily lives. If our organization can’t demonstrate clear purpose and political effectiveness, we will become a homogenous subculture instead of the diverse mass movement we need.

Democracy and Member Engagement

Mainstream ideas about democracy equate it with the formal procedures of our nominally democratic government institutions. However, our prevailing culture is profoundly apolitical and individualistic: individuals should largely keep to themselves, make up their minds at home, post on social media, sign a petition, lobby their legislators, and vote. While all of these practices might be necessary for democracy, we think they miss the point: most real power in our society flows either from the economic and political power of business elites or from the organized, popular power of those who oppose them. For working people to have power in society, they have to come together in massive numbers and make decisions collectively, often in the heat of struggle.

For us, democracy is about ordinary people having control over the things that matter. For DSA that means that all members should be supported to participate in debates and decisions about political direction, leadership, and organizational structure. But more than that, members should be engaged in decision-making as much as they are active in our political work: they should be ready to read competing arguments, come to meetings to discuss with their comrades, organize for their positions, and argue openly against what they think is the wrong path for DSA. If only a tiny minority of East Bay DSA members take this initiative and ownership over the chapter, we won’t achieve real democracy.

That’s why it’s essential that our chapter’s decision-making processes be accessible to our active members. General meetings where important decisions are made should be regularly scheduled, and they should not last for many hours or be held so often that they’re inaccessible to busy working people. They should start and end on time, be physically accessible, and provide childcare, food, translation, and other accommodations when needed. Organizers should be supported in making such meetings a reality, and in developing a welcoming and healthy environment. In other words, organizational democracy entails high participation and honest, comradely political debate, not endless fighting over procedural minutiae, personal attacks against those we disagree with, or 24/7 online chatter that only a few members have the time or interest to follow.

Why is high-participation democracy so important for our organization? First of all, by incorporating the perspectives of a wide range of active membership, the decisions that the chapter makes democratically will be well informed by debate and experience. Secondly, those decisions will have maximum support: if the majority of the chapter are convinced during a general meeting to support a certain course of action, they are likely to help carry it out and make it successful. Without that consent, even the best plan will fall flat due to lack of member activity. Third, debate over politics, strategy, and tactics should be considered a primary source of education for socialists, new and veteran alike. We learn through debating ideas but also through experience: over time, engaged members will see if the decisions we make are the right ones, and can learn lessons for the next time. Finally, open debate over important political and strategic questions allows us to hold our organization’s elected leaders accountable to the programs they are elected to carry out.

Recently, strategy meetings for the Medicare for All campaign have been incredibly popular and productive, with many dozens of members attending. These meetings increase membership involvement in strategic discussions regarding the tactics and messaging used in the campaign and source new tactics from those most interested in carrying them out. We are committed to expanding strategy meetings to include all active, chapter-wide campaigns.

Political Education

A democratic socialist organization must have a rich and accessible internal educational life. Our political education program should be a place where members from all backgrounds come together to learn and discuss socialist theory and practice. This is essential to developing capable socialist organizers who can analyze strategic and political problems, contribute to democratic debate, effectively implement the practical tasks of the movement, and talk clearly and persuasively about socialist ideas with their families, neighbors, coworkers, and other activists. Our classes should cover a wide range of political and historical topics, with an emphasis on teaching two or more perspectives within important debates, connecting it to our practical experiences, and making sure our discussions are accessible and welcoming to newcomers.

As democratic socialists we must fight the dominance of capitalist modes of thought as widely as possible. We should educate not only our own members, but the public as well. We should use every mass media tool at our disposal to disseminate our ideas in ways that are intelligible and compelling to ordinary people. We should also develop literature to ensure that we are teaching democratic socialist perspectives through our political campaigns. The goal of all our political education, both internal and external, is to build a broader understanding of the inherent inequality and injustice of capitalism, the importance of class struggle and solidarity, and the necessity of mass socialist action.

Frances Reade is the co-chair of Detroit DSA’s Socialists in Office committee and a member of Bread & Roses.